In The Business Store v. Mail Boxes Etc., the District Court for the District of New Jersey considered the effect of a “forum selection clause” in a business dispute between companies from different states, finding that these clauses are not always enforceable.
In 2003, Plaintiff The Business Store, Inc., a New Jersey company, entered into a franchise agreement with Defendants Mail Boxes, Etc. (MBE) – a California company – and United Parcel Service (UPS), under which Plaintiff was to operate a UPS franchise in Spotswood, New Jersey. The parties entered into two additional agreements for new stores in 2007. Two years later, however, a disagreement arose over $80,000 in royalties that Defendants argued they were owed. When the parties could not reach an agreement, Defendants terminated the franchise agreements.
Plaintiff sued Defendants in New Jersey state court, alleging breach of the franchise agreements and an implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, as well as tortious interference with contract, fraud and violation of the New Jersey Franchise Practices Act (NJFPA). After Defendants removed the case to federal court – on diversity of citizenship grounds: the parties are from different states – they filed a motion to transfer the case to the federal district court in the Southern District of California. Defendants argued that the “forum selection clause” in each of the franchise agreements dictated that any disputes be litigated in California.
The court denied the motion to transfer, finding that each of the factors to be considered in reviewing a venue transfer request weighed in favor of New Jersey. 28 U.S.C. Section 1404(a) provides that “for the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district . . . where it might have been brought.” The court noted that it considers “all relevant factors to determine whether on balance the litigation would more conveniently proceed and the interest of justice be better served by transfer to a different forum,” and that the burden is on the party requesting transfer to show that it is warranted.
The court began by finding that, because MBE’s principal place of business is in San Diego, the action would have been proper if originally brought in the Southern District of California. Nevertheless, the court noted that “[a] strong presumption of convenience exists in favor of a domestic plaintiff’s chosen forum.” Moreover, the fact that the dispute arose in New Jersey – where the contract was executed and performed – also weighed against transfer.
More importantly, the court held that enforcement of the forum selection clause would violate public policy because, among other concerns, it would require Plaintiff to litigate its NJFPA claim in “an unfamiliar and distant forum.” In other words, allowing the transfer in this and similar cases would “limit severely the availability of New Jersey courts as a forum for the enforcement of franchisee’s claims under the Act.”
As a result, the court denied the motion to transfer venue.
The venue issue often arises in business dispute litigation, particularly when it involves large national and multi-national corporations. If your company is involved in a business dispute and you need experienced legal representation, our business litigation attorneys are pleased to offer a free consultation to discuss your case. We represent clients throughout Illinois as well as Indiana and Wisconsin.
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